Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Ozzie Guillen and Cuba

The actions and public position taken by the Miami Marlins against manager Ozzie Guillen have a lot more to say about politics and the elite of this country than it does baseball. Guillen was suspended for five games for stating that he loved Fidel Castro and respected the fact that he stayed in power for so long without being killed.  What Guillen said must be understood in context, and here are some important dynamics to consider:

1. Latin America has been brutalized over the decades from the U.S. Our support of Rios Montt in Guatemala (responsible for 100,000+ Mayan deaths - all with material support from the Reagan administration) being just one example. Others include CIA orchestrated coups in Chile, Nicaragua (Contras), El Salvador, Guatemala, Argentina. Support for atrocities in all of those countries, and multi-national corporation seizure of resources are just the beginnings of what we've done. People like Castro, Chavez in Venezuela (Guillen's home country) and Morales in Bolivia have nationalized North American business interests upon assuming power, which has sealed their demonization in American discourse. You won't hear the same negativity applied to past regimes such as Rios Montt from Guatemala, Augusto Pinochet in Chile, or the Somoza dictatorship in Nicaragua - all extremely oppressive. The national narrative around those individuals is simply non-existent or filled with misinformation as they were supporters of the United States.

2. Given this context, support for Castro's revolution was and is common if not widespread. He is a leader who has stood against all that the brutal U.S. tied Latin American regimes of the past half century have represented. He has trained more doctors in Latin America than anyone in the world, and has also spread his literacy programs across the Southern Hemisphere. U.S. foreign policy has not been so friendly nor even remotely interested in true development or resolving conflicts/promoting education throughout Latin America's history. Every country we've touched, the situation has become worse - not better for the poor and disenfranchised.

3. Human rights violations? Yes, freedoms have been curtailed, Cuba is far from perfect, but mass killings and torture? Hardly. If anyone has done mass human rights violations and murders in Latin America over the past century, it has almost all been done either directly or with the support of U.S. foreign policy. Look up United Fruit Company from sites outside the U.S. and see what you find in the history of Central America, look at the ruthless human rights violators who have been trained at the School of the Americas in Georgia. Research the coups in Central and South America, or read books by Latin American authors - even American authors who are willing to step outside the mainstream.

4. The Cuban-American community in Miami (especially its voice and lobby influence) has grown largely out of the elites who were sent into exile as Batista's supporters, beneficiaries and cronies. This community is still heavily influenced by the same imperialist ideology that Batista supported - all aligned with international business interests. They have a reason to hate Castro - he nationalized their businesses, which were stripping the country's finances and resources - and took their exploitation of the poor and turned it around. Cuban literacy is nearly 100%, life span and overall health is dramatically improved since before the revolution, and the peasant classes saw their first opportunities for self-sustainability (all this despite a stifling U.S. embargo that has greatly hampered access to resources and further development). As I said, Cuba also has many faults, the lack of a free press being one of them as well as the lack of opposing political parties or national elections.

I do not claim Socialism as my ideology nor do I support Castro, but I too have respect for him. I do not claim any political ideology exclusively. But I think it is a suppression of free speech to punish a man from Venezuela, a man who has seen the OTHER side of our foreign policy in Latin America for expressing a political opinion that has been overblown and ultimately irrelevant to his performance as a manager. Our media truly does control our thinking if we fail to see this situation and possible support of Castro from another perspective - that of the Southern Hemisphere, even if that support is not unconditional or universal (which it certainly isn't). Context is crucial, and our media does a very poor job of describing the dynamics surrounding Cuba from the viewpoint of those in Latin America and other places quite adversely affected by U.S. foreign policy, and does an even worse job of attempting to understand those who come from such places.

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